The plot of this book had all the right ingredients to captivate my attention: a female character, a tragic event that will change her life, the prejudice of her own people and the clash between different cultures, but it didn’t turn out exactly as I expected.
Normal Calm is the bittersweet story of Amina, an American woman of Egyptian descent. She lives between two worlds eating pancakes and wearing a headscarf. Her parents are a mixture of tradition and modernity. They allow Amina to live alone for four years while she is in college, but they think she shouldn’t be too intimate with her fiancée.
Amina doesn’t complain because she shares their same values. When we get to know her college friends we find out that Sahar’s family comes from Pakistan and Layal has blue eyes and blond hair. They have different origins, but they are all part of the same religion. The same is true for her male friends: the black Tariq and Rami who is of Egyptian descent. The only exception is her childhood friend Kayla with blond hair and hazel eyes who doesn’t know if God exists and who Amina hopes and actively tries to convert to her faith. At the end of the book we don’t know yet if Amina succeeded in her intent, but before that we are told that Layal chooses to start covering her head and accepts to marry a man who doesn’t love, even if this makes her unhappy. Reading all this is a painful suffering, but the plot is so captivating that it’s almost impossible to take a break before the end.
Amina biggest problem is that she was raped by her friend Rami. Virginity in her community, like it was in others until some decades ago, is still an essential condition to find a husband. Amina falls in love for the Egyptian architect Sherif who lives in Chicago and feels the need to tell him the truth, even if her mother advised her otherwise and wanted her to undergo a surgery to restore her physical integrity. Sherif doesn’t accept Amina as she is because he has no way to know how many men she slept with. Only women must hide their body till the end of their days and preserve their virginity until marriage.
Amina goes on with her life and after graduation she finds a job as a chemist. She drives a car, but her parents convince her to decline a promotion to avoid her staying at work during the night. Amina’s mother is so eager to find a suitable husband for her only daughter that she looks like the mothers of some 19th century English novels.
Amina turns down the candidate chosen by her mother, but she accepts the engagement with Mazin. He is a good-looking dentist whose parents live in Egypt and he treats her well, but Amina doesn’t love him. Anyway she starts planning the wedding and a few moments before the ceremony she tells him about the rape. Amina is really surprised when she finds out that her father had already told him about that and Mazin accepted her past probably because he didn’t blame her for what had happened, since she had lost her virginity against her will. The same Mazin however had decided to cancel his wedding with a girl who revealed him she had sex with her former boyfriend. It seems to read one of those old comedies or fairy tales where a prince falls in love with a poor girl but at the end of the story we are told that in reality she was the lost daughter of some king and this is why their marriage, which at the beginning looked so subversive, is in reality socially acceptable.
I discovered this book through a giveaway on Goodreads. Unfortunately I wasn’t the winner, but I decided to buy it. The binding is really well done, even if the book was published by a very small publishing house and it’s a pity having found some misspelled words like “heeled” instead of “healed”, “states” (the United States) without the capitalization of the first letter, “bad been” which should have been “had been” and so on.